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As chief engineer of the Krem Roller Mill, Henry Klundt wore a uniform suitable to his station.
Henry Klundt, a Renaissance Man

Froeschle, Fred. "Henry Klundt, a Renaissance Man." Hazen Star, 30 April 1987.


Henry Klundt, left, served four years as Mercer County surveyor. The rodman at the right is unidentified.

The frontier needs men like Henry Klundt, and somehow, when they were needed, they disappeared.

Like many of Mercer County's early residents, he was born in Russia and had learned to speak both Russian and German, the language of his ancestors. And like so many of the Germans who lived in Russia, he was disenchanted by a government that had forgotten the promises made almost a century before to entice Germans to South Russia where they were needed to develop rich farm lands and to serve as a buffer between native Russians and the feared and hated Turks.

In 1901, at age 19, young Henry came to the United States to live briefly in Garrison, before moving on to Krem. In that pioneer Mercer County town he found work in the construction of the Krem Roller Mill, and when it was completed he became its operating engineer running the steam plant that powered the equipment. Where he gained the experience to run a steam plant isn't known, but it was typical of him that he took on the job with confidence and aplomb. He didn't wear coveralls. He wore a natty uniform, complete with a uniform cap.

One night in 1906 the mill caught fire and burned, and Henry established a repair shop and garage, fixing Krem's cars and farm machinery for the next few years. Among other things he designed and built Krem's first electric light plant, supplying electricity to several homes in the little town.

Krem was also the town where Henry found his wife, you Emma Doberstein, whose widowed mother ran a restaurant, and it was in Krem that the first of the six Klundt children were born.

Henry was active in the Lutheran church and a member of the choir, but most people who knew him considered him an agnostic, for he accepted nothing at face value. He chose to inquire into every facet of religion, philosophy, or any other subject that caught his attention.

His son Waldemar recalls that his father's intellectual interests covered a broad range: politics, religion, science and technology, history, music, and art.

"His hobbies and recreational diversions were equally diverse: gardening, hunting, reading, traveling, auction sales, automobiles, rock collecting, gem cutting, woodworking, Indian arrowhead collecting, card playing, sausage making, bawdy jokes, Amos 'n' Andy. All these things he pursued with great gusto and he loved to talk about them. How he loved to talk! The radio and newspapers ignited in him speeches and sermons; there were times when I felt he really missed him calling: he really should have been a preacher or a politician. But he could have been neither."

Waldemar, now a librarian in San Diego, Calif., recalls that his father left the church sometime before 1920: "His religious interests thereafter were those of freethinker. He subscribed to the "Little Blue Books" published by E. Haldeman-Julius and written by such diverse philosophers as Ambrose Bierce, Robert Ingersoll, Will Durant, and Clarence Darrow.

"Nonetheless," Waldemar writes, "it was his knowledge of the Bible that he used the most in his confrontations with the faithful. He frequently found and quoted passages that contradicted the beliefs of those who adhered to a more fundamental interpretation of the Bible. My aunt, Emilia Cleveland, a very devout believer, and my father often jostled over Bible interpretation but they never lost their respect for each other.

"Where my father parted ways with many churchgoers was over morality. He could never understand how of the faithful could attend church on Sunday and propagate a lie on Monday. Which is the same reason why my father could never have been politician," a comment that indicates Waldemar may have inherited some of his father's iconoclasm.

His daughter Violet's earliest recollection of her father centers around a Christmas Eve when the children came home from church to find Santa Claus putting gifts under the tree and learning only later that Santa Claus had been her father.

"When we lived in Hazen," she writes, "we went hunting and fishing. He always took the family on these trips. We also went berry picking often, and we would make picnics out of those trips."

Around 1919, Henry Klundt took a special course at North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. It qualified him for the job of county surveyor, a position he won at the next election and held for four years.

The family moved to Stanton, and in his new job Henry got to know the Indians who lived in the northwestern party of the county. He not only became a friend of many Indians, but he also became a collector and something of an expert of Indian artifacts.

Henry's feeling of friendship and sympathy for the Indians is perhaps expressed in one of his anecdotes:

"A white man was lost in the deep forest. He tried for days with no success to get out. Weak and exhausted to the point of crawling, he finally found an opening. And there, hanging from a tree was an Indian. 'Thank God,' the man exclaimed, 'I'm back in civilization.'"

In the early '20's, Henry brought his family to Hazen and established the Independent Oil Company. With the help of others he built the service station at the corner of Main and Second Street, West, using a variety of rocks he had collected to make the station one of Hazen's more unique structures. Although the building has been added to and remodeled, much of his work is still visible.

Daughter Violet Hayes recalls the area was "going through the Great Depression. We lived in a three-bedroom house - three brothers and three sisters, and we had to adjust to simple life. My father was a great protector of his family. He stayed up on cold winter nights to keep the fires going. In the summer he watched for bad storms. He knew which clouds were harmless and also which were dangerous. He had neither greed nor lust to get rich. He would lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it."

Around his service station he indulged his love for flowers -beds of zinnias, petunias, and moss roses. He also maintained a running gas war with Clarence Belo, who also had a service station on Main Street, on the east end of Hazen's compact, if not tiny, business section.

His son, Roland, recalls that Henry was highly service oriented and "insisted that his customers received the best. His attention invariably included cleaning windshields and mirrors, sweeping all the floorboards, checking fluids and tires."

In the late '30's, when Hazen utilized the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program of a new sewer and water system, Henry Klundt was chosen by the town to direct the work, projecting him into still another area in which he developed expertise.

Roland Klundt recalls one venture that was not an unqualified success. In 1928, Henry, attracted by cheap land prices, purchased 320 acres near Brockway, Mont., and farmed them for three years with selective crops requiring little attention and depending largely on nature's whims. Those were not nature's most generous days, and Henry after three years recognized the venture as a failure.

In 1946, when Henry was 64, he sold his service station and the family moved to New Salem where the oldest son and daughter were living. A few years later, Henry and his wife moved to California where they lived in retirement until their deaths.

The Renaissance during the 14th to 16th centuries was considered by some to be the last period in world history when it was still possible for one man to know all there was to know.

Henry Klundt might have fit the Renaissance.

Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.

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